WATCHING WASHINGTON, AUGUST 2019: The Surface Transportation Board (STB) and other independent regulatory agencies operate as a fourth branch of government, exercising quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers.
Author: Frank N. Wilner
WATCHING WASHINGTON, JULY 2019: If paper smothers rock, scissors cut paper and rock smashes scissors, short line railroads, controlling neither the paper nor rock, face a grim outcome in a quest to “cut up” so-called paper barriers erected by Class I railroads and sanctioned by the Surface Transportation Board (STB).
WATCHING WASHINGTON, JUNE 2019 – Here we go again with Amtrak. While complaining that host freight railroads unreasonably impair its legal right to passenger-train priority handling, Amtrak is employing thug-like tactics to escape federal law and extract greater rents and other concessions from commuter-train operators utilizing Amtrak infrastructure including track and stations.
News item: The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced May 23 that it is cancelling an April 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to mandate a minimum of two crewmembers on every freight train. Additionally, the agency is preempting, as it may under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution giving the federal government dominion over interstate commerce, all state laws mandating crew size within state borders.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, MAY 2019 – Oh, the contempt that drippeth from a judicial petition of the Western Coal Traffic League (WCTL), whose members ship and receive by rail some 175 million tons of coal annually. It accuses the Surface Transportation Board (STB) of impersonating a regulatory agency by not acting on long-pending rulemakings, and asks a federal court to order the STB to do as its statute instructs—timely decide cases brought before it.
LEGISLATIVE REPORT, APRIL 2019 – Knock, knock. Who’s there? If at the door are those laboring in official Washington, the answer is, “many new faces”—new congressional committee chairs, regulators, association chiefs, lobbyists and labor negotiators. Does not danger dwell where unfamiliarity and uncertainty lurk?
WATCHING WASHINGTON, APRIL 2019 – Stanley found Livingstone faster than vacancies on the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB) have been filled, with two remaining more than three years after Congress increased from three the number of Senate-confirmed seats.
Somewhat buried in history is that today’s railroad map is a product of behind-the-scenes actions by former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Frederick (Fritz) Hollings (D-S.C.), who died April 6 at age 97. He was Commerce Committee Chairman 1987-1995 and 2001-2003, during years Democrats controlled the Senate. He left office in 2005.
WATCHING WASHINGTON, MARCH 2019 – Amtrak seemingly operates in the shadow of a Bat Signal over Gotham—that specially modified searchlight displaying the emblem of a bat, and intended, when lighted, to summon superhero Batman. Rather than Batman, the Amtrak sentinel, with a passenger train emblem, summons self-appointed management surrogates—hopefully helpful railfans; well-intentioned but cash-strapped lawmakers from federal, state and local government; and, surely, the snoopy press corps.
Former Surface Transportation Board (STB) member Deb Miller, a Kansas Democrat, has withdrawn her name from contention for renomination by President Trump to a second term.